Monday, December 1, 2008

Human Behaviors and Our Ecosystem

As part of an effort to better understand the effects of human uses on the Maryland Coastal Bays watershed, Delmarva Low Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE) has teamed with the Coastal Ocean Values Center and the Delmarva Atlantic Watershed Network (DAWN) to take an in-depth look at behaviors that affect the ecosystem.
Called the Human Use Data Project, the goals of the proposed initiative include fostering a community consensus on the desired future condition of the region and envisioning how to promote the watershed as a vacation destination, farming region and residential community, while also protecting and preserving the integrity of the coastal bays.
Certainly, human behavior has played a role in negatively affecting our coastal environment. However, it is also humans who will provide the vision, funding, and know-how to restore and protect the coast and provide a new type of management that will ensure our coastal environment is one in which people and nature collaborate to maximize the societal value of the coast and ocean.
Despite the obvious role people play in shaping the physical and ecological condition of the area, our understanding of how to incorporate human activities into coastal management is still not fully understood. With fishing, maritime shipping, swimming, beachcombing, kite flying and bird watching and scores of other types of human uses, where do we start if we want to collect and analyze good information about human uses for coastal management?
Historically, we have turned to available data to learn what we should attempt to measure for coastal management and asked academia to tell us what analysis we need. As a result, we know a lot about fishing and ports and almost nothing about the local economic impact of nature and ocean tourism, shoreline protection, ecosystem services and recreation. We’ve conducted valuation exercises in places where we don’t even have a baseline of human activity; we’ve created complicated ecosystem services models even when we don’t have local data on ecosystem uses.
There are promising opportunities to collect and analyze information about the way people use Maryland’s coastal ocean ecosystem but we need a broader vision to help determine what data is needed to understand and manage change in the coastal ecosystem, as well as what human uses will be most affected by management. Moreover, we must learn what uses are most likely to benefit or be constrained by better management; and what societal goals can be best met through better coastal management.
DAWN, a Maryland, Delaware and Virginia technology collaboration for coastal conservation, and DLITE, an alliance to encourage nature-based tourism, are both interested in what we learn from the Human Use Data Project. Indeed, the data will be used to improve managing the watershed to maximize economic benefits and minimizing negative resource impacts.
The project is also in-keeping with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan and will provide valuable information that will go a long way toward improving the ecosystem based management of the region.

Linwood Pendleton is the Director of the Coastal Ocean Values Center and is Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Research for the Ocean Foundation. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor with the University of California at Los Angeles.

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